India: Public Hearing heard the plight of migrant domestic workers
Kerala is one State in India that earns a substantial part of its income from foreign remittances. With high levels of education, unemployment is also high in this state. A large number of women from Kerala seek employment abroad. Several of them seek work as domestic workers as they have no other professional skills. The majority of them return traumatised as they are exposed to great difficulties while they are abroad.
The Government of Kerala has created the Non-Resident Keralites' Affairs Department (NORKA) as a means of assisting migrant workers abroad. Nevertheless, the outreach of NORKA to poor women who desire to migrate for domestic work is extremely limited.
SEWA Kerala documented the cases of several migrant domestic women workers and organised a Public Hearing on the 18th October, 2013 in order to make their plight more visible. The Inaugural Session was Chaired by Ms. Lissy Joseph, Member of the Kerala Women's Commission and Dr. B Sandya IPS inaugurated the Hearing. At the technical Session, 7 women workers testified before a Jury that was Chaired by Dr. Nivedita P. Haran, IAS, the Kerala Labour Secretary, and Convened by Justice Hariharan Nair and the following members, Mr. P C John, Member of the State Planning Board, Mr. R S Kannan , Secretary of NORKA, Mr. Kanam Rajendran, Secretary AITUC, Dr. Praveena Kodoth Associate Professor, Centre For Development Studies.
Several of the women seemed still traumatised when they shared their harrowing stories of being cheated by agents, exploited and abused by employers, neglected by the Indian embassy, hounded by the police and even imprisoned abroad. The majority of them were single mothers, with no land or home and who sought a better employment to keep their families going. They were all illegal migrants and hence had fallen into such traps.
The Jury was taken aback to hear these stories and unanimously made a list of recommendations given below.
Subsequently the Organisation for Migrants in Kerala stated that there was no Migration Act and this should be developed and lobbied for. The Migrant Forum India showed a short film of the ILO process towards C189 and the role of the domestic workers there and gave a brief report of what they do.
SEWA stated that as a union of workers in the informal sector it was committed to assist these migrant workers and would pursue the recommendations of the Jury. It was nevertheless important for the returned and prospective migrants to understand the need to organise and lobby for their own rights to safe and decent migration.
Present at the Hearing were several women's organisations and other NGOs, human rights activists, together with domestic workers themselves. State leaders of Five of the Central Trade Unions were present and while commending SEWA on this initiative also stated that they would cooperate in this important work of protecting such women workers.
Recommendations of the Jury to ameliorate the difficulties of persons leaving for other countries as domestic workers:
- The Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants Ltd (ODEPC) AND NORKA ROOTS (Non-Resident Keralites’ Affairs Department) should device modalities to initiate recruitment of such prospective emigrants through authorized channels and stop the present illegal system of ‘pushing’ adopted by unauthorized agents and institutions. Rather than being passive onlookers these institutions should engage in massive awareness programmes dissuading now prevalent illegal immigration systems and initiate prosecution steps against such agents wherever such instances of exploitation and illegal transactions come to their notice.
- The Govt. of India should be moved through the Govt. of Kerala to improve the nature of functioning of Indian Embassies abroad especially in the Gulf countries. They must learn methodologies to extent help to Indian citizens and take effective steps to avoid exploitation by employers and middlemen. The necessary modalities like giving of wrist bands (as done by the Embassy of Philippines) to such immigrants for continuous tracking and for reaching help to them whenever required should be learnt and implemented.
- To avoid the situation where the immigrants are deprived of documents of identity and travel documents, leading to their incarceration, a system may be evolved enabling them to deposit such documents in some safe place and to keep with them copies only. Ensuring that they have access to Bank lockers or safe deposit lockers in the embassies will be one option to achieve this objective.
- Help desks with toll free number should be established attached to all embassies for rushing help to such immigrants as and when necessary.
- It should be ensured that all immigrants are provided with wrist bands, cell phones and SIM cards so that they will have no difficulty to contact relatives and help desks in case of need. A list of emergency numbers should be provided to all immigrants. Provision should be made to ensure that inspecting officials abroad look into the question whether these facilities including availability of copies of travel documents with the immigrants are actually made available by the employers.
- Necessary Rules should be framed and made applicable to all the local bodies in Kerala for registering the cases of migration (even if it is through illegal channels). The register to be kept in such local bodies should contain details of the immigrant including name, address and phone number and Aadhar number; similar particulars of the Agent, to the extent available, amount paid to the Agent for pass port, visa and incidental expenses, amount collected by the Agent towards his fees, country of destination, passport and visa particulars etc. Maintenance of such a register would be helpful to get at the culprits and to provide relief to the victim in case the immigrant faces exploitation or difficulties abroad or even while she is in India awaiting emigration.
- A system should be evolved enabling immigrants to open bank accounts so that salary due to them would be paid into such accounts only. There should be no obstruction for the immigrants to move out and to have access to Bank and other places of essential services.
- The public should be persuaded to report to NORKA details of unauthorized agencies engaged in illegal pushing and the like. Likewise cheated immigrants and their relatives should also be persuaded to report details of such agents and the details of incidents leading to cheating so that NORKA can take up the matter with the Police and other appropriate law enforcing agencies.
Story Type: News